Politically speaking

MARSHALL – A number of area girls are among the nearly 375 from across the state who have the opportunity to attend the 67th Annual American Legion Auxiliary Minnesota Girls State program June 9-15 at Bethel University in St. Paul.

While it began as one- and two-day sessions in the late 1930s when Washington D.C. and Delaware launched the program, Girls State has grown into a week-long program in government and good citizenship for young women, reaching nearly 20,000 delegates each year.

“It’s a really good program,” said Cathy Radil, Minnesota American Legion Auxiliary treasurer.

Radil said 2013 attendance is up slightly from last year, but that numbers used to be much higher in the Minnesota program.

“Back in the good ol’ days, we had up over 400 girls,” she said. “But kids are so busy nowadays. A week is a long time for someone in high school.”

Anna Madsen and Courtney Mensen, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School seniors-to-be, nearly missed out on the opportunity to attend Minnesota Girls State because the Tyler Auxiliary disbanded a few years back, Madsen said. Fortunately, Boys State supporters made the experience possible.

“There weren’t really any boys interested in Boys State this year, so our history teacher, Eric Harper, came up with the idea of getting girls to state,” Madsen said. “He went to Boys State when he was in high school and he knows people in the American Legion, so it was easy for him to get it lined up.”

The Tyler American Legion post didn’t have to sponsor them, but they eagerly did. The Russell and Ruthton posts didn’t have to provide support either, but they also stepped up for the girls.

“It was really generous of the Legion to want to do that,” Madsen said. “We were so grateful they were willing to do that. They’ve all been very supportive. I’m very excited to go.”

Madsen admitted she really wants to learn more about government, especially after her experience serving as a page in the House of Representatives in March.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Before, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to go to college for, but this open up my eyes for political science and all those opportunities.”

Madsen said she has an interest in pursuing pre-law and going to law school and majoring in political science. The Girls State experience should help her decide, she said.

“I’m looking forward to just learning more and meeting other girls from around the state with the same interests as me,” Madsen said. “It should be a good learning experience. Getting a hands-on experience is a fun way to learn about new things. It’ll help to learn more at Girls State.”

Upon arrival at Girls State, the girls will be divided into two political parties and will being studying the city, county and state government processes. Elections are held to fill city, county and state governmental position. Citizens will also participate in campaigns, caucuses, debates and voting processes throughout the week. They’ll also be learning about parliamentary procedure, which Mensen is very familiar with.

“Going to Girls State is kind of the same as FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America),” she said. I get to do something about government.”

Mensen has been involved in FCCLA during the school year for the past six or seven years, she said. This year marks the second straight year she’s been on the parliamentary procedure team.

“We made it to nationals this year,” Mensen said. “It’ll be in Nashville, (Tenn.) in July. There’s maybe six or seven of us on the team. It’s really fun. We have a great team.”

Last year, Mensen sang the National Anthem at the opening ceremony at the FCCLA nationals in Orlando, Fla., in front of 7,000 people. The leadership skills she’s already acquired will certainly provide a strong foundation for her in the upcoming week.

“I’m pretty excited,” Mensen said. “It’s nice to know there will be people I already know going, though.”

Girls State provides attendees with the experience of living together as self-governing citizens with the privileges, rights and responsibilities of American citizenship, in addition to learning about the American Legion Auxiliary, the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization.

“I’m hoping that Girls State helps me decide what I want to do with my life,” said Sara DeGroat, a senior-to-be at Tracy Area High School. “It’ll be a learning experience. I want to work with people, but I don’t know if that should be in business or political settings.”

DeGroat was approached about attending Girls State by long-time American Legion and Auxiliary members from Balaton.

“They said, ‘Hey, would you like to go to Girls State? If you do, then you need to write an essay,'” DeGroat said. “So I did.”

DeGroat said she’d heard some positive stories about the Girls State program from past participants around Tracy and Balaton. That, combined with her experience at a world leadership conference in Washington, D.C. her seventh-grade year, made the decision to attend Girls State an easy one.

“I just know from friends previously attending that you get assigned to a city and you get to be an elected official,” she said. “You keep getting higher up as you get to know people. I’m happy we can go up there and meet new people. It’ll be fun. I’m pretty glad I decided to go.”

Tracy’s Megan Richardson and Stacey Vue are also planning to attend Girls State, as are Cottonwood’s Anissa Peppersack, Alexis Laleman, Erin Devereaux and Shelby St. Pierre, Minneota’s Megan Evers, Walnut Grove’s Kao Neng Vang and Murray County Central’s Lorraine Sweetman, Tiffany Tutt and Lissa Carlson.